Getting Started in Skimo: Fitness

The start of a Friday Night Lights Event at Black Mountain

The start of a Friday Night Lights Event at Black Mountain

Don’t take me too seriously

I don’t have a PHD in exercise science. I eat a lot of junk. And I spend way more time sitting around drinking beer than I do “training.” So, if you’re looking to totally geek out on what kind of training plan you should subscribe to and how many calories you should consume during your next ultra, you should keep looking.

But yeah, fitness is pretty important. Definitely way more important than the gear you’re on and I think it deserves a post prior to diving into what little I know about skimo gear.

Where I’m Starting From

As I said in my intro I’m a fit-ish 32 year old with some responsibilities (If only I were an independently wealthy 20 year old without a care in the world...sigh…) By fit-ish, I mean I have a cardiovascular capacity that’s likely much better than your average jabroni on the street but I’m not even close to being as fit as the upper-end amateurs that attend Friday Night Lights.

Lately, my cardio work has been a mixture of trail running, mountain biking and cycling. Up until this year, in an effort to prevent injury, I only ran once per week and used bikes to fill in the rest. In early summer this year I was feeling good and upped it to running twice per week and now I’m at around 3 times per week or roughly every other day. And I’ve gotta say my joints are recovering pretty well despite the increased running load. But inevitably I always seem to find reasons not to get out as often as I should during the winter.

My big to-do this past summer was competing in the Ragged Mountain 50k and finishing in 8 hours 11 minutes. That was longest duration run (both in time and distance) that I had ever completed. The only thing that has came close was running a Presidential Traverse in 2017 in 7:30ish. It had about 2000’ feet more vertical gain but 14 fewer miles.

That 50k kicked my ass. It took over a month for me to fully recover from it and I’m still just getting my running volume back up to where it was prior to the race. Currently, I’m concentrating on increasing my running frequency from 1-2 times per week to 3-4 times per week. More frequency for about the same volume.

My latest fitness benchmark was Ski The Whites’ Black Mountain Blackout 5k with a time of 37ish minutes. It had about 1300 feet of vertical gain, it was raining/freezing rain, the trails were rivers of water and mud and it was dark as shit. I got lost along with several other people allowing a large group to gain on me. But I still ended up finishing in 2nd place for the 5k. A lot of the super fast folks were in the 10k group.

Photo by Austin Perry

Photo by Austin Perry

This race was a nice benchmark for me. It showed me that I wasn’t as slow and out of shape as I thought I was despite not having put in many mountainous vertical miles since Ragged Mountain. It was also a wakeup call for what to expect at a skimo race. It had some very runnable uphill sections combined with some very steep stuff that required pawing at the ground with my hands. I thought I might vomit several times. And that’s a lot of what skimo is: go uphill fast near your redline.

The Plan

My plan for the getting into shape for this skimo season is relatively straightforward and very fluid. And by fluid I mean that I can easily find a way to skip a workout. Or bail on a program entirely. But, this is the plan:

  1. Continue with the long, easy to moderate efforts. This will include trail runs at a little above “all day” pace in the 8-15 mile range until the local trails are covered in the snow. (Note: This has already happened). Eventually this will include guiding people up Mt Washington in the winter. These are 7-8 hour days at a very slow pace (for me) with 4300’ of vertical gain and a moderately heavy pack and heavy boots. They’re great Long Easy Distance (LED) efforts and they have the added benefit of making me tough as nails. Or at least I get to get to act tough around the city folk I’m guiding.

  2. Increase the hard effort runs. I need to start incorporating more hard efforts on the short hills I have around here as well as some sprinting/intervals/fartleks on the flats. Gotta get those muscles honed and tendons/ligaments toughened for those hard uphill efforts that I’ll be doing in a skimo race. We’ll see what happens if this year’s early winter continues. Maybe more intense resort-based uphill skis.

  3. Go skiing a lot. This is the fun one. To put it lightly, I’m not exactly God’s gift to the ski world. So, any amount of skiing, even if it’s lift-accessed, will increase my skiing proficiency and make me faster on course.

  4. “Core” exercises. I suck at doing this stuff consistently. I’ll occasionally find myself sitting around with nothing to do on a rainy day and say, “Oh yeah, abs and stuff.” So I need to get this stuff cranking on a more consistent basis. If only once a week.

Maybe (probably) this is all a joke. I didn’t once mention lactate threshold, so clearly I’m a total amateur at this. But we’ll see how this season shakes out and then improve from there.